Monday, May 28, 2012

What to Remember on Memorial Day

“What you are proposing is murder,” Lt. Joseph Cramer told his commanding officer, Colonel John Chivington of the Third Colorado Cavalry, shortly before daybreak on the morning of the planned assault. Cramer and several other members of Chivington’s command staff had severe misgivings about the prospect of a sneak attack against a band of defenseless of Cheyenne Indians who had been promised protection.

Chief Black Kettle had distinguished himself through repeated efforts to secure the peace – on one occasion riding weaponless between opposing skirmish lines to prevent a battle from breaking out. In witness of his non-belligerency he had been provided with a United States flag by military officers who promised to protect the Cheyennes and Arapahos who lived in his encampment. 

The "Battle" of Sand Creek could be considered the last engagement in which the U.S. flag flew over Americans who mounted a desperate defense of their homes and families against a barbarous aggressor.

During the months leading up to the November 1864 attack on the Sand Creek Reservation, Black Kettle had cooperated in efforts to identify and apprehend Indians who had stolen horses and attacked white settlers. He had also repeatedly petitioned both civilian and military officials on behalf of Indians who had suffered similar abuses.

Black Kettle is in the front row, second from the left.
 “The Indians talk very bitterly about the whites – say they have stolen their ponies and abused their women, taken their hunting grounds, and they expected that they would have to fight for their rights,” wrote Lt. George Hawkins in an official report filed during the bitter winter of 1863. The concept that Indians had rights they were entitled to defend was foreign to Colorado Governor John Evans and General Samuel Curtis. 

During a September 1864 conference in Denver, Evans disingenuously insisted that owing to a “state of war” the military had plenary authority over Indian affairs, and that he was powerless to negotiate a peace treaty. Curtis wasn’t interested in a modus vivendi with the Indians: “I want no peace until the Indians suffer more,” he wrote in a directive to Colonel Chivington. “Pursue everywhere and chastise the Cheyennes and the Arapahos…. No presents must be made and no peace concluded without my consent.” 

Chivington was indecently eager to carry out that barbarous directive. Considered a war hero of sorts following a Civil War engagement with Confederate forces in New Mexico, Chivington chafed under the restraints placed on his volunteers. He also resented the fact that the Third Colorado Cavalry, which had yet to see action, had been saddled with the sardonic sobriquet “The Bloodless Third.” 

Chivington’s zeal for combat was highly selective, however. In staging his punitive expedition he was careful to avoid contact with any group of Indians who were actually capable of fighting back. 

With Black Kettle’s people still mired in slumber, and dawn’s tentative fingers peeling away the blanket of darkness, Chivington dismissed the complaints of his underlings as an offense to his exquisitely refined sense of honor: “I believe it right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians who kill and torture women and children. Damn any man who is in sympathy with them.” 

Chivington gave the order, and 750 troops opened fire on the undefended village. The pitiless rifle onslaught was intermittently punctuated by the throaty report of four twelve-pound howitzers. 

Emboldened by the sight of an unarmed and helpless opponent, Chivington’s troops swarmed the camp and surrendered themselves unconditionally to their most depraved impulses.

“There are gruesome eyewitness accounts about braining live children, cutting off fingers to get rings, cutting off ears to get silver earrings, and multi-scalping the same corpse,” recalled historian J. Jay Myers in his book Red Chiefs and White Challengers. A volunteer named Robert Grant later testified that he saw one dead Indian mother “cut open with an unborn child lying by her side. I saw the body of [a Cheyenne named] White Antelope with the privates cut off.”

It wasn't a "battle" in any sense.
 More than 150 Cheyennes – most of them women and children – were slaughtered at Sand Creek. Black Kettle, his gravely wounded wife Medicine Woman, and the other Cheyennes and Arapahos who survived were forced to sign another useless treaty and relocate to an even more desolate reservation on the shores of the Washita River in Oklahoma. 

Nearly four years to the day after Chivington’s murderous raid, Black Kettle’s band endured another unprovoked massacre, this one carried out by George Armstrong Custer's Seventh Cavalry at Washita. Black Kettle and his wife were gunned down while carrying a flag of truce. 

In his book  Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West, Hampton Sides points out that the Sand Creek Massacre, which became the U.S. military’s template for murderous “pacification” operations against the Indians, “is now widely regarded as the worst atrocity committed in all the Indian wars.” At the time, it was celebrated as a brave and noble deed.

“Chivington returned to Denver in triumph,” writes Sides. “At a theater his men paraded their war trophies before the cheering crowds: Scalps, fingers, tobacco pouches made from scrotums, purses of stretched pudenda hacked from Cheyenne women. The Denver newspapers praised the Colorado Volunteers for their glorious victory.” 

“Posterity will speak of me as the great Indian fighter,” boasted Chivington. “I have eclipsed Kit Carson.”

Of course, Kit Carson – unlike Chivington – didn’t specialize in sneak attacks on unarmed Indians to whom official protection had been promised.

A few days before Chivington's “victory” over defenseless Cheyenne women and children, Carson had fought a real battle against a huge force of Comanches and Kiowa on the plains of Texas. Out-numbered ten-to-one and facing other strategic disadvantages, Carson managed to eke out a nominal “victory” in the Battle of Adobe Walls. 

“Just to think of that dog Chivington and his dirty hounds, up at Sand Creek,” Carson commented contemptuously to Army Inspector Col. James Rusling after returning from battle. “His men shot down squaws, and blew the brains out of little innocent children. You call such soldiers Christians...? And Indians savages? What do you suppose our Heavenly Father, who made both them and us, thinks of these things? I tell you what, I don't like a hostile Redskin any more than you do. And when they are hostile, I've fought 'em, hard as any man. But I never yet drew bead on a squaw or a papoose, and I despise the man who would. I've seen as much of 'em as any man livin', and I can't help but pity 'em, right or wrong. They once owned this country.... But now they own next door to nothing, and will soon be gone.”

Carson spent a brief term as commissioner of the Bosque Redondo Navajo Reservation in New Mexico, a project he understandably came to view with unalloyed disgust. The reservation’s creator, General James Henry Carleton, regarded that reservation to be a model experiment in the forcible assimilation of Indian populations.

Uprooted by the army from their homeland -- “severity will be the most humane course,” Carleton insisted – the Navajo were forced to endure what they call the “Long Walk” to Bosque Redondo. 

As the defeated Navajos were enduring their murderous trek to the Bosque Redondo gulag, Carleton wrote what he thought was a gallant and generous epitaph for that people:

“The exodus of this whole people from the land of their fathers is a touching sight. They have fought us gallantly for years on years; they have defended their mountains and their stupendous canyons with heroism, but at length, they found it was their destiny, too, to give way to the insatiable progress of our race.” 

The land in the new Navajo “home” was desolate, its water supply brackish and unfit for either consumption or cultivation. Promised supplies and farm implements arrived sporadically, if at all. Many of the Navajo, provided with bags of white flour for which they had no practical use, died of malnutrition from eating uncooked handfuls of the unfamiliar dust contained therein.

Washington’s interest in the Navajo ended once they were cattle-penned at Bosque Redondo. Rather than seeing to the welfare of their new wards, the Feds focused on Carleton’s fanciful claim that the stolen Navajo lands abounded in gold.

Carleton had told Washington that the “only peace” that could be made with the Navajo “must rest on the basis that they move onto the lands at Bosque Redondo.... Either subjugation or destruction ... are the alternatives.” He frequently wrote of the need to “chastise” and “overawe” the Navajo, to let them “feel the power and the sting of the government.” He nearly chastised them into oblivion. 

Hundreds of Navajo were felled by starvation after a cutworm infestation struck their cornfields. The entire Navajo population would likely have died at Bosque Redondo if they hadn’t been given grudging permission to leave in 1868 after signing yet another treaty surrendering ninety percent of their original lands.

The quaint notion expressed by a few throwbacks like Kit Carson that Indians should be dealt with as human beings created in God's image was widely regarded as a relic of a less “progressive” era. Indeed, by the late 19th Century, the term “progressive” was used to describe Indians willing to undergo federally mandated reconstruction; “conservatives” were those who stubbornly clung to their rights.

Following Washington’s conquest of the independent South, the Regime turned its eyes westward. General William Sherman, whose infernal columns had carved a bloody highway to the sea, was given the task of clearing the path for the corporatist railroad combine – which meant either subjugating, expelling, or liquidating the Plains Indians.

Red Cloud.
 A little more than two years after Chivington’s slaughter at Sand Creek, a vainglorious boob named Lt. Col. W.J. Fetterman, commanding a detachment of eighty men tasked to guard a supply train, abandoned his assignment to stage a punitive expedition of his own. He led his men straight into a fatal ambush laid by Red Cloud and American Horse.

When U.S. troops butchered Indian women and children, the event was called a “battle”; when they were killed by Indians defending their own territory, the incident was described as a “massacre.” (Contemporary defeats of that variety are referred to as “terrorist attacks.”) Rather than treating Fetterman’s death and the annihilation of his command in Wyoming as the product of insubordination and lethal ineptitude, Sherman turned Fetterman into a martyr.

“This massacre should be treated as an act of war and should be punished with vindictive eagerness, until at least ten Indians are killed for each white life lost,” Sherman instructed those under his command. This didn’t mean waging war against the battle-hardened Indian warriors who had defeated Fetterman in a fair fight, of course. Notes historian Heather Cox Richardson in her recent book Wounded Knee, “Sherman told the commander of the Department of the Platte to consider all Sioux in the Power River region hostile.” The object was to “punish them to the extent of utter extermination if possible.” 

Sherman had often heard the grim but irresistible summons to slaughter. In a letter to his wife Ellen written during the War Between the States, Sherman noted the “the problem of war consists in the awful fact that the present class of men who rule the South must be killed outright rather than in the conquest of territory.” He expressed nearly identical sentiments toward the Plains Indians in a letter to his brother John, a Republican Senator from Ohio, declaring that the Sioux and Cheyenne “must be exterminated, for they cannot and will not settle down, and our people will force us to it.” 

Sherman’s most notable Indian opponents didn’t share his Total War ethic. After Custer’s Seventh Army was defeated in Battle of Greasy Grass – known by the losers as the Battle of Little Bighorn – Sitting Bull issued orders not to pursue and kill off the survivors: “Let them live. They came against us, and we have killed a few. If we kill them all, they will send a bigger army against us.”

That army came anyway. Sitting Bull and his band fled to Canada, where they were initially given refuge. The vengeful Regime in Washington used its influence to intimidate the Canadians into denying the refugees a suitable tract of land. Confronting the prospect of mass starvation, Sitting Bull and his followers returned to the United States in July 1881. 

After being illegally imprisoned at Fort Randall, Sitting Bull was forced to endure a totalitarian homily preached by Republican Senator John Logan of Illinois.

"You are not a great chief of this country,” Logan lectured. “You have no following, no power, no control, and no right to any control. You are on an Indian reservation merely at the sufferance of the government. You are fed by the government, clothed by the government, your children are educated by the government, and all that you have and are today is because of the government…. The government feeds and clothes and educates your children now, and desires to teach you to become farmers, and to civilize you, and make you as white men.”

In practice, the policy described by Logan was designed to kill, through attrition, any Indians who refused to be assimilated. As Charles Eastman described the process, the government – through corrupt appointees – “robbed the Indians, then bullied them, and finally in a panic called for troops to suppress them” if the haggard and starving captive Indians exhibited the slightest capacity for resistance. 

Sitting Bull was murdered by police at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on the morning of December 15, 1890. The unarmed chief was shot in the chest after refusing to submit to an unlawful arrest. This was an overture to the climactic slaughter on the frozen shores of Wounded Knee Creek two weeks later. 

To this day, the U.S. Army proudly displays the “battle streamer” of what is called the Wounded Knee “campaign.” Dozens of participants in that atrocity – which can properly be called America’s Babi Yar – were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The monument to the “heroes of Wounded Knee Creek” still exists at Ft. Riley, Kansas

“By the turn of the [20th] century, Wounded Knee had become a symbol of the strength of the American government and its democratic idea,” writes Heather Richardson in Wounded Knee. “The military tactics used at Wounded Knee not only won Medals of Honor for the soldiers, they also became the face of the modern American Army. Lieutenant Henry L. Hawthorne, who had directed the artillery unit until he had been shot in the groin, took his Medal of Honor with him to MIT, where in 1891 he became a professor of military tactics.”

A decade later, the U.S. Army would apply the lessons it learned at Wounded Knee in its effort to pacify the Filipinos whom they had “liberated” from Spanish rule. By some estimates the military relieved roughly two million Filipinos of their corporeal burdens during its errand of enlightenment in the archipelago.

Wounded Knee monument at Ft. Riley.
In 1883, with the Plains Indians effectively broken, a retirement-bound William Sherman boasted that his campaign of extermination against the Indians “did more good for our country and for the human race than I did in the Civil War.” Since he died and went to hell on Valentine’s Day 1891, roughly a month and a half after the Wounded Knee Massacre, Sherman didn’t survive to see the uses to which his example would be put by his 20th Century imitators. 

 “They were not subjects of fascism who clubbed to death infants in the arms of Indian mothers,” writes historian John Upton Terrell in his study Land Grab. “They were not Nazis who shot running Indian children to demonstrate their prowess as marksmen. It was not a dictatorship which condoned the illegal appropriation of territory awarded to Indians by solemn treaty for `as long as the waters run and the sun rises.' It was not ... a fuhrer or a duce who herded [Indians] into prison camps and let them die of malnutrition, cold and disease.... The bugle calls of American history proclaim not only noble victories and morally justified accomplishments. They proclaim, as well, base deeds and infamous triumphs.”

Terrell’s assessment is worthy of our attention today, as we are barraged with admonitions that we sing hymns of chastened gratitude to the memory of those who killed and died on behalf of the State that rules us. 

Dum spiro, pugno!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Rape of Delaware County, Oklahoma

In Oklahoma’s Delaware County, Sheriff’s deputies were too busy figuratively raping motorists in the village of Bernice to supervise guards who were literally raping inmates in the county jail. As a result, the County Commission has put the screws to the entire county in the form of an 18 percent sales tax increase in order to pay the victims a $13.5 million settlement.

Bernice, which has a population of about 600, is bisected by Highway 85A. For the past quarter-century, the town has been one of the most notorious speed traps in the Midwest. Until recently, the town didn’t have a police department; instead, it contracted with the Delaware County Commission, paying $5500 a month to rent sheriff’s deputies to write speeding tickets and other citations. 

A recent investigation conducted by Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary A. Jones  discovered that since 1977, the municipal government had never published its ordinances as required by state law – which meant that its schedule of fines and court fees was invalid: The trustees never published the ordinances, as required by state law. 

“Any ordinances (other than those pertaining to the appropriation of money) that are not published within 15 days of their passage are not in force,” notes the audit.  As a result, “the municipal court should not have collected fines of more than $50. The court has over-collected approximately $106,308 in fines through the end of June 2011”; in addition, the court also “over-collected” nearly $8,000 in court costs. The auditor directed the Bernice Town Board to reimburse those who had been subjected to illegal fines (in one instance, a motorist was given a ticket for $545). More importantly, from the perspective of those higher up in the tax-feeding chain, the auditor slammed the Town Board for withholding a cut of ticket revenue and court fees from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and state Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training.

In response to the audit, David E. Jones, the bar-certified sophist retained as Bernice’s town attorney, weaved a seamless web of persiflage, insisting that even though the cabal that employs him “did not follow the strict technical requires for publication [of the traffic ordinance], the public clearly had constructive notice of the existence of the Bernice Penal Code….”

Jones’s claim, rendered in less opaque language, was that the town’s status as a well-known speed trap constituted legal “notice” of the practice. Buttressed with this spurious and self-serving assessment, the town’s trustees voted on May 14 not to grant refunds to victims of the illegal ticket scheme, thereby laying permanent claim to more than $100,000 in illegally collected revenue. 

Like nearly all official business conducted in Bernice, the May 14 vote took place in a meeting that was closed to the public, a practice typical of the cabal’s serial violations of the Open Meeting Act. The audit described habitual violations of that statute, each of which is a crime punishable by a year in the county jail and a fine of up to $500.

Until recently, the Town Board – which conducts nearly all significant business in “executive session” – had forbidden citizens to participate in monthly town meetings. Subsequent to the audit, that policy was modified to permit three minutes to citizens who wish to speak, which is not to say that the Board will allow anything that is said to have any measurable effect on its decisions.

 “The atmosphere in a Town Board Meeting is meant to intimidate and silence people,” commented Bernice resident Steve Miller, who lives with his 72-year-old mother in Bernice, in an interview with Pro Libertate. “When you go to a town meeting in Grove, which isn’t far from here, there are no policemen, no security cameras. There is a U.S. flag, an Oklahoma State Flag, microphones set up for each Council member and for the citizens who wish to participate. Here in Bernice, however, there are always armed and uniformed officers present, security cameras – and no mike for public comments. It’s like going into a jail – or walking into a den of thieves.”

Miller, a consulting engineer by profession, is the civic-minded resident whose petition drive resulted in the state audit. His involvement grew out of the harassment suffered by his mother, Mary Zapf.

Starting in May 2010, Miller and his mother noticed that Delaware County Sheriff’s Deputies “began patrolling our property daily,” Miller recalled to Pro Libertate. “Our property is surrounded by three public streets, and I saw these deputies slowly driving by constantly. I started taking their pictures and even got one of them to talk to me briefly. I asked him why they were keeping our property under surveillance; his reply was, `Because the mayor told me to.’”

With Miller’s help, Mrs. Zapf was doing some construction and renovation on their property. This included modifying a driveway that had been used as a short-cut by motorists seeking to avoid a nearby intersection. 

On May 4 of that year, Mayor Bill Raven visited Zapf to tell her that there was an unspecified “problem” with her landscaping project, and to ask her to “hold off until the town could get some things together.” Mrs. Zapf offered to have the mayor discuss the renovation with the contractor, who was on-site; Raven declined that invitation, insisting that he didn’t want to start a “fight.”

The following day, Raven and the Town Board decided to take “emergency” action to deal with supposed “zoning violations” on Zapf’s property. That matter, in typical fashion, was discussed in “executive session” during the May 10 Board Meeting. When it emerged from its secretive huddle the Board informed Zapf that no action would be taken, because she had agreed to “hold off” on further construction.

After waiting for nearly a month to hear from the mayor and the board, Mrs. Zapf sent them a letter announcing that she intended to resume work on her property. The improvements were finished on June 4th. Five days later, the Town Board sued her for “trespassing” by allowing alterations on her own driveway. 

“The material basis of their claim was that they had an easement on the driveway because at some unspecified point in the past they had plowed it during the wintertime,” Miller observes. “We went through one of the biggest snowstorms in Oklahoma history a few years ago, and they never sent a plow.”

Shortly after being informed of the town’s lawsuit against her, Mrs. Zapf visited the town clerk’s office to request the agendas for the upcoming meetings of the Bernice trustees and the Zoning Board – matters in which she had an obvious and urgent interest.  Town Clerk Connie King, ever the dutiful public servant, reacted to this eminently reasonable request by slamming the door in Mrs. Zapf’s face. That prompted the long-suffering widow to exclaim that the clerk was being a “stupid witch” – an epithet several orders of magnitude milder than what might normally be employed in a situation of that kind.

On the basis of that remark, Mrs. Zapf received a citation on July 20 for “disturbing the peace.” Although the only “witness” to Zapf’s supposed offense was the officious personage on the other side the door she had slammed, a police report was filed – two months after the incident – by two deputies who were not present when it occurred. The fine listed on the summons was $195 – an amount well in excess of the $85 prescribed in the fine and bond schedule.

“I knew the trespass lawsuit was a malicious attempt by the mayor to seize land, as there were no town residents … listed as plaintiffs,” Miller explained in his letter to the state auditor. “The harassment by the deputy sheriffs was an abuse of power by the mayor, and an attempt to intimidate and coerce my mother into a submissive position. The disturbing the peace accusation was false and intended to scare her away from obtaining public records. The police summons was another attempt by the town to intimidate a citizen. The fine was not only unfounded, it seemed excessive, so I began my own investigation.” 

With the analytical discipline of a trained engineer, Miller examined the city’s penal codes and Delaware County Records to find out if this grotesque over-charge was a vindictive anomaly, or part of a larger pattern. What he discovered – and the independent state audit confirmed – was that the town had been in violation of state statutes “for approximately 25 years.” 

 Publication of the audit was greeted by the Bernice Town Board with what one participant in a rare public meeting described as “smirks and laughs.” By that time, however, the Delaware County Commission had cancelled its contract to provide deputy sheriffs for traffic enforcement. This was done not because of developments in Bernice, but rather because of “potential liability issues” arising from a $13.5 million settlement reached with victims of sexual abuse by deputies in the County Jail.

Complaints from female inmates at the Delaware County Jail began to accumulate in March 2008, many of them involving a part-time transport deputy named Bill Sanders, Sr. Sanders, recalled the Tulsa World, “would often take female inmates to `appointments’ without reporting his departing mileage and time…. It was during many of these transports that inmates say they were assaulted by Sanders and forced to perform sex acts.” 

Key elements of the accusations were confirmed by a former county dispatcher, who also described how the former jail administrator, Lonnie Hunter, would “shake boxes of cigarettes at the inmates to encourage them to flash their breasts at him.” (Two dispatchers eventually filed sexual harassment lawsuits of their own.) Some of the inmates testified that both Sanders and Hunter would exchange cigarettes and other coveted goods for sex. When confronted with a particularly intransigent inmate, Sanders would simply assault her in the serene confidence that he would never be held accountable.

“Now you said you wouldn’t tell, and even if you did nobody would believe you, because you’re just a drug addict,” he told one victim during a trip to the emergency room. “Who are you compared to me?”

Sanders – who died at age 63 of “natural causes” in November 2008, just after being fired and just before the lawsuit was filed – was a part-time deputy who had no formal training and no personnel file on record. When deposed for the lawsuit, Hunter, Sanders’s supervisor, insisted that he was not responsible for the crimes committed against helpless inmates: “My responsibility is to the last locked door. After that, it’s up to the transport officer.”

Former Sheriff Blackfox.
 The OSBI gave Sheriff Jay Blackfox a detailed report describing the sexual abuse suffered by more than a dozen women by staff under his authority. In his deposition, Sheriff Blackfox insisted that he wasn’t “aware” of what was happening in his jail, because he had only read “part” of the OSBI’s report owing to his busy schedule. 

Blackfox was dismissed by County Commission at roughly the same time the Commission ended its traffic enforcement contract with Bernice. This left the Bernice Town Council with the perceived need to hire a police chief and create its own police force to patrol a town with a population of fewer than 600 people. It settled on a “gypsy cop” named Daniel Travis Lowe, who had just been fired from his job as police chief of Burden, Kansas – another town of roughly 600 people. 

New Eunice Police Chief Daniel  Lowe.
At the time he was hired by Bernice, Lowe was still subject to a “diversion program” growing out of a domestic violence incident involving his ex-wife, who was Burden’s Town Clerk

The terms of that agreement specified that the charge would be dismissed if Lowe refrain from criminal behavior for one year. Unfortunately, this refers only to unlicensed criminal behavior; becoming chief enforcer for Bernice’s ruling clique wouldn’t qualify. News of Lowe’s background provoked understandable controversy, which led to another Town Meeting where the Board – acting in “executive session,” of course – ratified its decision.

“There is something oddly appropriate about the selection of this guy to be the chief of police,” Steve Miller commented to Pro Libertate. “This is entirely typical of the way things operate in this county.” In fact, the institutionalized sexual abuse and related corruption that has festered in Delaware County is hardly atypical of Oklahoma as a whole.

Over the past eight years, tax victims in three Oklahoma counties have been forced to pay more than $24 million to settle lawsuits arising from the routine sexual abuse of female inmates.  Two former sheriffs -- Melvin Holly of Latimer County, and Mike Burgess of Custer County – have been given prison terms of 25 and 79 years, respectively, for sexual assaults on incarcerated women.
Melvin Holly.
 Holly told one of his victims, a 19-year-old girl, that if she ever disclosed what happened she would “end up dead somewhere, floating face-down in a river.” 

Burgess used his position on the Custer County Drug Court to create what was described as a “sex slave ring.” He told one woman who rebuffed his advances that if she didn’t submit to him she would “not ever be able to see her children until after they had grown up.” Another woman who resisted was placed in lockdown, denied her medications, and forced to eat food that induced rectal bleeding. 

Sales and property taxes were increased to pay the settlements arising from lawsuits filed by the victims. Next January, residents of Delaware County will suffer an 18 percent sales tax increase; all purchases will be taxed at 9.3 percent for seventeen years. The $13.5 million settlement is an amount three times larger than the county budget – and more than the construction price of the jail where the sexual assaults occurred. 
Mike Burgess.

County Tax Assessor Leon Hurt, whose name is one of God’s little Dickensian jokes, points out that most of the people with whom he deals “are barely making it on their own income. For them to see this extra impact … could be the last straw.”

Oklahoma is a state in which piety has curdled into punitive sanctimony, which explains why it has some of the most stupid and vicious drug laws in the English-speaking world – and, in per capita terms, the largest female prison population on the planet. Thanks to the wise and perceptive people in the state legislature, however, residents can take comfort in this thought: If their mother, sister, or daughter commits a trivial drug offense in Oklahoma, she may be caged by the government and be pitilessly molested or even raped by her jailers, but at least she won’t be forced to wear a burqa.

Dum spiro, pugno!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

If Cops Can't Taze a Pregnant Woman, The Terrorists Will Win

Two survivors of police abuse: Malaika Brooks and her daughter.

Thanks to a misbegotten ruling from a divided Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, police in nine states have been left at an insurmountable disadvantage when dealing with criminal suspects. At least, that’s what we’re told in a legal brief submitted to the Supreme Court by a coalition of police unions. 

“It won’t be long before the word spreads through society’s criminal underworld that the Ninth Circuit hasn’t simply given them a `get out of jail free’ card, but a `never have to go to jail in the first place’ card,” warns the amicus brief. Rather than subduing criminals, “police officers will now be forced to walk away from people they have arrested.”

The ruling that is fraught with such awful implications, Brooks v. City of Seattle, involved a patently unnecessary Taser attack upon a woman who was seven months pregnant. The unarmed woman, who was not suspected of a violent crime, posed no threat to the three – yes, three – valiant officers who assaulted her. She was uncooperative, but did not offer any violent resistance. 

Her sole “offense” was to refuse a demand that she sign a traffic ticket that was eventually dismissed. 

In March 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court found that Seattle Police Officers Steven Daman, Juan Ornelas, and Donald Jones used excessive force when they committed their attack on Brooks and her unborn child – but that they were entitled to “qualified immunity” because the legal precedents dealing with the use of electro-shock torture on a pregnant woman were ambiguous in 2004.  

The assailants were thus left in the clear -- but unsatisfied with their victory. With the support of organizations representing tens of thousands of police officers (including some 30,000 SWAT operators), the officers are appealing that ruling to the Supreme Court, claiming that any limitation on the discretionary use of tasers against non-violent “suspects” constitutes an unacceptable restraint on police discretion and a dire threat to that holiest of social considerations, “officer safety.”

An unarmed fourteen-year-old girl is tasered in Philadelphia.
  In its brief on behalf of the officers, the Los Angeles County Police Chiefs Association (LACPCA) and the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) insist that refusing to allow police to use electro-shock torture against a pregnant woman would fatally undermine the principle of “pain compliance” on which social order – as they pretend to understand it – depends.

On November 23, 2004, Malaika Brooks was taking her son to school when she was stopped by Officer Ornelas, who claimed – wrongly, as it turned out – that she had been speeding. When he presented Brooks with a traffic ticket, she refused to sign it out of the concern that doing so would constitute an admission of guilt. She had done the same during a 1996 traffic stop in which the officer, who possessed some residual decency, simply handed her the little extortion note and walked away. 

Ornelas, unfortunately, chose to escalate the encounter by calling for “backup.” A few minutes later, Officer Jones and Sgt. Daman arrived on the scene and began to threaten and berate Brooks. None of this was necessary: The officers were engaging in a tribal display of primate dominance, rather than carrying out a function related in any way to protection of person and property. When they threatened to kidnap – or, as they called it, “arrest” – Brooks, the woman informed them that she was “less than 60 days from having my baby.”

After huddling briefly, the three officers attacked Brooks. Ornelas seized her right arm and -- in the course of less than a minute – inflicted three “drive stun” charges to Brooks’s neck, shoulder, and thigh, an assault that left her with permanent scars. The three officers then dragged Brooks – who had been desperately clinging to the steering wheel, honking the horn, and screaming for help – from the car, threw her face-down and pinned her to the ground. She was handcuffed and then booked on charges of “Refusing to sign” a traffic citation – a misdemeanor – and resisting arrest. 

A jury eventually found Brooks guilty of the first “offense,” and acquitted her of the second. The speeding citation was thrown out before Brooks went to court. Brooks filed suit against the officers for assault and violating her civil rights. The officers responded by invoking the well-established – and utterly specious – doctrine of “qualified immunity,” seeking a summary dismissal. The District Court dismissed the assault charge but found that the officers had committed a civil rights violation that nullified their claim to qualified immunity. 

 The Ninth Circuit reversed that holding as it applied to the defendants, ruling that the officers were protected by qualified immunity and could not be sued by Brooks. However, the Court offered notice that in the future similar taser attacks on non-cooperative but non-violent subjects would constitute excessive force.

In his dissent, Judge Alex Kozinski maintained that Brooks “had shown herself deaf to reason, and moderate physical force had only led to further entrenchment…. Brooks was tying up two line officers, a sergeant and three police vehicles – resources diverted from other community functions – to deal with one lousy traffic ticket.”

Who was responsible for this “diversion” – Mrs. Brooks, who was merely being uncooperative, or Officer Ornelas and his comrades, who needlessly escalated a disagreement over “one lousy traffic ticket” to the point where potentially deadly force was used against someone accused of a trivial traffic offense, rather than an actual crime?

“The officers couldn’t just walk away,” complains Kozinski. “Brooks was under arrest.” 

There was no substantive reason why the police couldn’t walk away – if they had been acting as peace officers, that is, rather than as armed enforcers of the revenue-consuming class. 

If a police officer has the option of deploying a reliably deadly weapon in a situation of this kind, he also has the option of backing down and letting the court deal with the merits of the citation. But the position claimed by the officers – and accepted, in a qualified sense, by the Ninth Circuit Court – is that anything other than immediate and unqualified submission by a Mundane justifies the infliction of summary punishment by a police officer.

The amicus brief by the LACPCA and NTOA lament that the Ninth Circuit Court, while upholding the unqualified “authority” of police to arrest people at their discretion, “has deprived officers of any lawful way of enforcing that authority, at least when the suspect is not engaged in violence directed towards the officers” and has “unnecessarily limited the amount of force that can be used against a suspect who refrains from using violence against the police” (emphasis added). 

For more on this fatal Taser attack, go here.
What the police unions who filed that brief are demanding is an open-ended grant of unlimited “authority” to use “pain compliance” against people who passively resist abduction by police. The question of using violent means to subdue a violent criminal suspect is not implicated in any way by this case.

In their petition for certiorari, the officers – whose actions, remember, were upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court – complain that the ruling could “prohibit the use of any low-level physical force against an actually resisting suspect who does not present an imminent threat of harm to the officers, a result that could strip law enforcement of any reasonable and practical means of enforcing the law.” 

To which a person whose mind is not hostage to totalitarian assumptions would reply: “And the problem with this is…?”

In a reasonably free society, police (actually, peace officers) would not presume to "enforce" the law; they would track down and arrest people plausibly suspected of committing crimes against person and property. They would not be permitted to violate the unconditional law of non-aggression by initiating force, or issue what they assume to be “lawful orders” to people who are not suspected of actual crimes. They certainly would not be permitted to employ “pain compliance” in any situation that didn’t involve legitimate defense against an actual aggressor.

Remarkably, in their amicus brief the officers who committed what should be prosecuted as a felonious assault on Brooks asserted that “it is well established that police officers need not use the least amount of force in effecting an arrest.” 

Once again, we’re invited to believe that there would be apocalyptic consequences if police were inhibited in the use of disproportionate force to compel non-violent “suspects” to submit to their supposed authority.

Under the standard prescribed in the amicus briefs filed on behalf of the officers who assaulted Brooks, it’s difficult to find fault with the actions of Beaumont, California Police Officer Enoch Clark.

 On February 21, Clark stopped a woman named Monique Hernandez on suspicion of DUI. When Clark tried to handcuff her, Hernandez resisted. Clark’s preferred method of “pain compliance” was a JPX device — a weapon that employs a gunpowder charge to fire a stream of pepper spray at roughly 400 miles an hour.

The JPX weapon is designed for use against armed assailants at a distance of 6 to 15 feet. Its payload of weaponized OC spray is propelled over that distance at less than three one-hundredths of a second, making it (in the words of the company’s promotional literature) “too fast to avoid…. The effect is immediate; there is no chance to resist.”

Clark – a veteran officer and chairman of the local police officers union -- fired his JPX gun into Hernandez’s right temple at a distance of roughly ten inches. The impact shattered the woman’s right eye and inflicted irreparable damage to her left eye as well. 

The officer has been indicted on four felony charges. His attorney insists that the officer’s attack was justified in order “to gain compliance and in defense of his person.” If the claims made by and on behalf of the officers who assaulted Mailaka Brooks are sound – if police officers are not legally required to use minimal force when dealing with non-violent “suspects” – it’s difficult to see how Clark’s actions were improper, even though they resulted in Monique Rodriguez being permanently blinded.

“It was Brooks’s recalcitrance and resistance that prompted her treatment,” sniffs the officers’ petition for certiorari. “Under both state and federal law she did not have a right to resist her arrest,” which purportedly means that the officers were permitted – nay, required – to employ “pain compliance” techniques against her until she submitted.

Wouldn’t the same principle apply to the actions of Enoch Clark in dealing with the equally recalcitrant Monique Hernandez? His police union attorney certainly thinks so. And let us not forget that any effort to inhibit the police in their sacred mission to impose order would constitute an existential threat to our society. 

Deny an intrepid hero in body armor the option of tasing a pregnant woman – or kicking her in the stomach hard enough to cause the near-term infant to defecate in the womb – a reign of terror will ensue, with the “criminal underworld” arising to devour us all.  

Dum spiro, pugno!